By Nicole Marie Wieland
City Team Ministries’ team leader for food services, John Clifford, sits at his desk, typing away on a computer. A photograph of his daughter, Kiera, hangs on the wall above his desk, along with some corkboards and white boards filled with information about food service, clean up duties, and various lists.
City Team provides food, shelter, and a men’s recovery program to Chester residents.
Clifford showed up at City Team Ministries in 2007, homeless and a heroin addict after serving time in prison.
“No one wakes up one day and decides to be a drug addict,” Clifford says. “I came from a really good family. But I destroyed all my relationships in my life. God saved me in jail. I knew I needed help, and I was actually ready for it. Jail was the best thing that ever happened to me; it really saved my life. I lost everything when I was in there. It gave me a brand new fresh start.”
When Clifford walked into City Team, he was greeted as a dad or businessman, not a junkie, he recalls. He spent 53 weeks in the recovery program. After he completed it, he interned there for a year.
In 2009, he got a call from the regional director of City Team Ministries, Kwinn Tucker, who told him they wanted to invite him to oversee the kitchen.
The only catch?
He had a budget of zero, and he had to raise his own salary as well. It was dependent on Clifford to figure it out. And he did.
Seven years later, Clifford oversees a non-profit organization that is completely
dependent on volunteers and donations. They serve three hot meals every day, 365 days a year, to the people in need in Chester, Pa.
In 2015, they launched a new ministry, called Hope Café. It is a restaurant-style dinner program on Saturday nights.
“The way I was treated when I came in that’s what I want our guests to feel like,” Cliffordsays.
After the dinner, guests are welcome to stay for a worship service to hear the Word of God.
Another aspect of City Team is their pantry, which operates like a corner store. People have the opportunity to come in and shop once a month, choosing from canned goods, breads, and meats.
City Team Volunteers travel the Greater Philadelphia Area six days a week to pick up fresh produce and baked goods from over 10 grocery stores and other businesses. They then serve more than 17,000 bags of produce to the community per year.
Holidays are special times for City Team. Through volunteers, over 900 families register for a pre-boxed meal, complete with a turkey or ham. The volunteers deliver this box to the family’s home by hand, and offer to pray for them and see if they have any other needs.
In the kitchen, Andrew Tiffany, the kitchen resident assistant, and other members of the kitchen staff are busy prepping the dinner for the evening: spaghetti, meatballs, and salad, complete with garlic bread. Men in the program sit around tables waiting, laughing, smiling, and talking among each other. Every face is a friendly face.
Clifford checks on the dinner preparation to make sure everything is going smoothly. He then walks around and greets everyone by name, asks them how they are doing, and has casual conversation with almost every man there.
“Our kitchen is a leadership development program at its core,” Clifford says. Members of the recovery program come into the kitchen as dishwashers, then begin helping with food prep. “Next thing you know, they’re helping cook, and helping to train the next group of guys.”
Kitchen assistants serve men in the recovery program their dinner, who then sit down to eat together over a hot meal. Clifford walks around and sits down to talk over his own plate of food. They all sit together and laugh together, enjoying the community that they have with one another. Once they are finished, they will step behind the counter to serve the people from Chester dinner.
John Walsh, who has been at City Team for a year, describes it as “God inspired.”
Not only does City Team serve food to the people of Chester, but they also are a homeless shelter for people to come in off the streets and have a place to stay. They provide a mother-baby program for women to get formula and clothing for their little ones, as well.
A dream for Clifford in the next few years would be for City Team to start up a women’s recovery program, he says.